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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

January 17, 2008

Columbia Business School Fall 2008 Admission Essays

File this one in the better late than never category. I have been busy with clients and thus not able to cover all the topics I had wanted to last year. For those who have not applied yet, I thought I would post my analysis of Columbia Business School's very odd set of questions. If you find the beginning of my analysis somewhat cynical and mean spirited than chances are you don't belong in New York City anyway. That said, the first few paragraphs below are as much for amusement as for utility. After that I get more practical (mostly).

I say this is a very odd set because this is the only essay set I know where students are being specifically asked to analyze themselves in relationship to the perspective of the Dean of the Business School. By the way, I suggest watching this little video the students at CBS put together for the CBS Follies about the Dean's failed candidacy for Chairman of the US Federal Reserve (for the full story behind the video, see here).

Another aspect that is odd about this essay set is that the first two questions are likely to generate overlapping answers because in both cases one is being asked to assess the value of an MBA to your future. What is worse is that because essay 2 and 3 both reflect the Dean's views on entrepreneurship, there is also potential overlap between these two questions. I will discuss how to handle these problems below. Frankly, I consider this to be a badly formed set of questions as a result. One hopes that next year the Dean will let admissions ask distinct questions that are better designed not to blend into one another. It is their choice of course, but I will be very surprised to see them do this same set again. In the increasingly unlikely event that the Dean gets some great political appointment (in lieu of the Chairmanship of the Federal Reserve that he lost out on) from President Bush than he likely wouldn't be the Dean next year. I am guessing that supporting Mitt Romney for President will not have been one of the Dean's better moves, so he might be the Dean at Columbia for a good long time. In that case, the questions might get even more focused on his perspective.

The Columbia Business School Essays for Fall 2008 are available in the online application. My analysis follows after each question. Unlike other schools, Columbia does not number its questions in the application, but I have taken the liberty of doing so below:

1. What are your short-term and long-term post-MBA goals? How will Columbia Business School help you achieve these goals (Recommended 750 word limit)?
Over the years, Columbia has been very consistent in the way they ask this question. At first glance, it does seem pretty routine, but notice that something is missing from it? Compare it to NYU Stern or Chicago GSB or Wharton and you will see that there is no reference to the past. While one must certainly address one's past when answering this question, there should be no extended analysis of your career progress to date and you need not emphasize how your past experience will contribute to your future goals. Instead focus this on showing how Columbia will help you achieve your goals. The resources available at CBS and Columbia University are vast, so figure out specifically what you want from the school. The program is flexible, so identify your needs from Columbia as specifically as possible. Also keep in mind that CBS is changing its core curriculum.

Columbia wants to be loved. CBS has an institutional inferiority complex in regards to Harvard Business School and Stanford. After all, when you are frequently second choice, it hurts. What do I base this cruel allegation on? Two things. First, alumni interviews where demonstrating that Columbia really is the interviewees first choice seems to be a very common question and carries greater weight than at other top schools. Also (and more objectively), I look at the yield rates from Businessweek:
HBS 89%
Stanford GSB 80%
CBS 77%

Now Columbia's yield is certainly solid. That said, the good old early decision round helps to keep it that way and hence given the unique nature of that round, comparing the rates of CBS to other programs is somewhat problematic because by comparison the other schools are at a disadvantage. Which is to say if Columbia did not use the mandatory $6000 deposit and ethical stranglehold approach it takes to those who are accepted for the early decision, its yield would easily fall. How far, I am not sure.

Making a clear case why your goals are best achieved at CBS should be at the core of the essay. To make sure that they can see that, be very specific about what you need to learn at CBS to achieve your goals. After all, you want to show them you love and need them! If your goals are hot, that will making this essay even better. For learning about what is hot at Columbia, I suggest taking a look at their new blog: Public Offering.

2. In a recent speech delivered to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, Dean Glenn Hubbard discussed the new, essential elements of the 21st century MBA: http://www.gsb.columbia.edu/admissions/21st_century_MBA.pdf. How will your MBA prepare you for a rapidly changing business environment (Recommended 500 word limit)?
I will NOT be providing you with an analysis of the Dean's speech. Read and reflect on it yourself. Here I will focus on how to answer the question. As mentioned above, Question 2 overlaps with question 1 and since Question 2 is partially focused on the role of entrepreneurial education, there is also some significant overlap between this question and Question 3. My suggestion is actually draft your answers to Questions 1 and 3 before answering Question 2 so that you fully differentiate between the essays and because if you have completed other school's essays already, you are likely to have a good start on Questions 1 and 3.

A number of my clients have asked me what the difference is between Questions 1 and 3. I think one huge difference is that 1 is specifically about your goals and about why CBS is the right place to achieve them, while 2 is about how you will use an MBA to adopt to a changing world. Thus I would suggest using 1 as a space to provide a very specific career goal oriented essay and 2 as a space to write more thoughtfully about the kind of very significant challenges taking place in your imagined future that an MBA will help you with. My clients have also asked to what extent reference should be made to Hubbard's speech and my general answer is that it should be clear that you read it, but DON'T WRITE A 500 WORD ANALYSIS OF HIS SPEECH. Mention ideas from his speech that are relevant to your answer, but don't feel obligated to write about the speech at any great length. Use Hubbard's speech as a springboard for writing your own essay, not as the core of tour essay.

3. The entrepreneurial mindset is an integral component of the Columbia Business School MBA. Please discuss a time in your own life when you have identified and captured an opportunity (Recommended 500 word limit)

Question 3 was previously Hubbard's question and identified in previous years as such. It reflects his focus on entrepreneurial education, but is actually a very open-ended question. For a story to fit, it essentially needs to consist of both a clear demonstration of your ability to identify an opportunity and to get it implemented. Let's discuss each step in turn.

The identification of the opportunity is really critical. If you are about to write a leadership essay about how you lead a team successfully by carrying out someone else's plan, you don't have the right topic for Question 3. The key part of this essay is that you identify something that other people can't see or don't see, that you initiate a positive change that adds value. I think the add value test is really important. A story where you identify a potential problem and simply prevent it from taking away value is not going to work here.

Capturing an opportunity means to get it implemented. To what extent you you do the actual implementation yourself is less important than your ability to go from having a good idea to making into a reality. If you do actually handle all the implementation then to the extent possible, explain what you did. In this sense, this essay could be like a leadership essay. Capturing an opportunity is ultimately about results, so describe the results very clearly. Obviously a situation where your are in the midst of implementing something will not likely work well here. You should be writing about a situation with a clear positive outcome where you added value.

While the story need not be on a professional topic, it should be on a topic where the outcome is clear and that best showcases your ability to find and realize opportunities. I think applicants with only two to three years of professional experience can more reasonably write on a non-professional topic than those with five or more years of experience.

4. Please tell us about what you feel most passionate in life (Recommended 250 word limit)

Passion is about emotion, it is about motivation. It is not rational and hence is in contrast to the very rational questions that make up the rest of the CBS application. In past years, I have seen successful essays on this topic on a variety of subjects, but the only common thing was that no one wrote about work. For those who write about work in Question 3, Question 4 is the main place in the essay set to write at length about something other than work. Whether it is your committed involvement in an organization, an issue that you care deeply about, or a hobby/interest that you have long been engaged, provide Columbia with some further insight into who you are as a person through this essay. If you have chosen to discuss a non-professional topic in Question 3, I think it is possible to write about a professional topic here, but be really certain that you are focused on passion. Whatever it is that you do write about, passion has to be there.

5. Optional) Is there any further information that you wish to provide to the Admissions Committee? Please use this space to provide an explanation of any areas of concern in your academic record or your personal history. [ADAM: Length not specified, 600,000 characters maximum, BUT KEEP IT BRIEF]
As with other school's optional questions, do not put an obvious essay for another school here. This is bad in general, but especially bad for CBS, given my comments above about their sensitivity. If you have negative issues of concern, see my post on the Chicago optional question. You can certainly write on something positive here, but before you do, ask yourself these questions:
1. If they did not ask it, do they really need to know it anyway?
2. Will the topic I want to discuss significantly improve my overall essay set?
3. Is the topic one that would not be covered from looking at other parts of my application?
4. Is the essay likely to be read as being a specific answer for Columbia and not an obvious essay for another school?

If you can answer "Yes!" to all four questions, it might be a good topic to write about, but my suggestion is to keep it brief so as to be consistent with the length for the other essays, ideally around 100-500 words.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス
MBA留学 ビジネススクール カウンセリング コンサルティング

January 05, 2008


(English Version)



1. MBAを取得したら、個人的に、また仕事上において、どのような影響がありますか?

2. どうしてあなたのプロフェッショナルなゴールにMBAが必要なのですか?

3. あなたは本当に1年から2年間、学校に戻りたいと思いますか?

4. MBAの費用はどうしますか?

5. 出願手続きをコミットする準備はできていますか?

6. 「機会費用」について考えましたか?経費だけではなく、時間についても。

7. ROI(投資利益率)を計算しましたか?(Click here for the Businessweek MBA ROI calculator.)

8. この学位はあなたに適切なものですか?他の学位やトレーニングについても考えてみましたか?

9. MBAプログラムについてどのくらい知っていますか?

10. どの学校に出願しますか?それはなぜ?



何かご質問は? コメントを僕に直接送ってください。お気軽にadammarkus@gmail.comへ英語でご連絡ください。
-アダム マーカス,
Adam Markus のカウンセリングサービス


January 03, 2008

University of Chicago GSB's Top Ten Myths of the Admissions Process

As usual, the University GSB provides great information related both to its own and other top MBA programs. Their just released "Admissions Insider: Top 10 Myths" is really worth looking at, so I have reproduced it in italics and added my own additional comments to it below:

In monitoring the discussion forum, talking with GSB applicants on the road, and meeting prospective students here on campus, the Admissions team is often reminded of the strange ideas and misconceptions prospective students have about the Chicago GSB admissions process. Adcoms finally attempt to de-bunk the top 10 myths.
Myth 1: The GMAT is the most important part of the application. There is no one admissions requirement that is more important than the other. While the results of your GMAT exam are important to us, they are by no means the only tool we use to make an admissions decision. The GMAT score is not a "make or break" item. At Chicago GSB, our application process is a holistic one in which the Admissions Committee attempts to learn all about you in order to determine a fit between you and the GSB. And that goes above and beyond your GMAT score.
See my post last month on this very issue. The higher the school ranking, the more generally it is the case that the GMAT is just one aspect of the process.
Myth 2: A campus visit is a must if you expect to be admitted. While we'd love to get everyone who applies to see Chicago GSB in person, we realize it's just not possible for everyone to make their way to Chicago. We do strongly encourage applicants to visit campus at some point, but not visiting won't negatively affect your application. Visit our website for more information about planning a campus visit.
In my experience, whether or not my client has visited GSB or not is not a real factor in their results. For some applicants, especially those with weak English language speaking skills, it might be better not to visit ahead of time. Also if you do attend an admissions information session at Chicago, at least based on the session I attended, you should be prepared to briefly introduce yourself to the other attendees and the admissions officer conducting the session.
Myth 3: It's impossible to be admitted during Round 3. While Round 2 sees the greatest number of applications, Round 3 is truly no more or less competitive than Rounds 1 or 2. It's just that fewer spots are available by Round 3. The best advice is to apply when you believe that you can turn in the application that you're most proud of and that best reflects your strengths and talents. However, we do encourage our international students to consider Round 1 or 2 in an attempt to avoid potential difficulties in obtaining a student visa prior to the start of classes in late August.
For international applicants: If the visa processing issue is a problem in your country, applying to the 3rd round might be problematic. At least here in Japan, it is not an issue at all. It is not so uncommon for applicants to gain admission in either the 3rd round or even later if they are waitlisted.

Myth 4: You must attain a minimum GPA or GMAT score and have at least 5 years of work experience to be considered for admission. This is an easy one; there are no minimums for these factors! Anyone who has or will obtain a bachelor's degree and can report a GMAT score is eligible to apply for admission to Chicago GSB. You can view our class profile online to see some statistics for the class of 2008.
Whether it is Chicago GSB, Wharton, Stanford GSB, Kellogg, or Harvard Business School, I have seen clients with a variety of profiles admitted. If anything, the overall trend at top programs is to have less rather than more stated minimums. The minimum work experience issue just does not apply to most programs anymore.
Myth 5: Being interviewed by a staff member will increase your chance of getting admitted more than an interview with a student or an alum. Each year, we rely heavily on our alumni all over the world to conduct interviews with applicants. The same holds true for students here at the Hyde Park Center and those who may be studying abroad. These two groups, each member of which has been carefully trained, conduct the vast majority of interviews. At times, the Admissions staff will also conduct interviews in certain locations. Regardless of who your interviewer may be, the feedback is valuable and is weighed equally in each and every case.
See my comments above regarding visits. If you are an international applicant, you may find it more strategically useful to be interviewed by an alum from your own country, depending on what your English ability is. That said, when it comes to overall fairness, I would take an admissions officer from an top program over either students or alums, after all admissions officers are trained to value diversity and measure people across a variety of factors. The worst MBA interviews, not necessarily involving Chicago GSB, that I have heard about all involved either a student or an alum. Sometimes the student training (again not GSB in particular) is not sufficient to provide applicants with someone who is professional or fair enough. I have heard reports of older alum interviewers (not necessarily at GSB) with very fixed, out of date, and preconceived notions of what their alma mater is and this can impact applicants who don't fit into the interviewer's mold.
Myth 6: The earlier you submit your application before the deadline, the earlier your interview invitation will come. The interview invitation process lasts a few weeks for each round as our staff and graduate assistants read and review thousands of applications. The process of inviting applicants to interview is entirely random, and the point at which you hear from us is not a reflection on the strength of your application or the timeframe in which you submitted it - we promise! And we really do extend interview invitations all the way up until 9:00 am on the mid-decision date!
This invitation-selection method specific to GSB, but the advice above applies to most other programs as well. Don't fixate on these dates more than you have to and when in doubt about the process, look over the school's website. Each school has its on method for choosing candidates to interview and a unexpected increase in applications, staffing, and/or technical issues may result in the process not proceeding as initially stated.
Myth 7: If you were not a Business major, you are at a great disadvantage during the admissions process. Students who apply to and enroll at Chicago GSB come from a variety of backgrounds with respect to their undergraduate studies. In fact, 34% of the class of 2009 had liberal arts backgrounds. We are always excited by the unique experiences that each student's education brings to the community at the GSB.
I was not aware that anyone actually believed this. All I can say is that any good MBA program is trying to build a diverse class and the last thing they would do is fill it with business majors.
Myth 8: Chicago GSB prefers applicants from finance and consulting backgrounds. At Chicago GSB, we value diversity in all its forms, including career industry. Many of our applicants come from finance or consulting backgrounds; but many more have work experience in other industries, including military service, marketing, education, retail, and non-profit work, just to name a few. It's not what you do that matters - it's how you do it and the experience you'll bring to the classroom and study groups.
Based on my experience with Chicago GSB, I can say that is certainly true. It is also true at other top programs. Many may go to Chicago GSB to acquire advanced skills in finance or consulting, but not necessarily have a background in it.
Myth 9: The Admissions Committee members only read the first essay in the application - they disregard the rest. Those of us who read applications night and day for weeks on end sometimes wish this was true! Our staff, including our Graduate Assistants, reads each and every essay, recommendation letter and transcript that crosses our desks. This makes for a great deal of work; but we're committed to putting together the best possible class and to do so, we feel we need to get to know each applicant well. This process is a part of what makes Chicago GSB a unique place. You've worked hard to submit your application, and we appreciate that effort.
The reason they have you write the essays is so that they can read them. With schools that specifically state they have use a holistic process of evaluation and have no absolute minimums, assume a full review of your application.

Myth 10: A letter of recommendation from the CEO of my company/a GSB alum I met once/the Governor/the President of the United States is better than getting one from a supervisor or another colleague who knows me well. Choose your recommenders carefully! Letters of recommendation are a crucial part of the admissions process and while you may be tempted to impress the admissions committee with the connections you've made, you'll want to work with someone who knows you and your accomplishments, talents and skills well. Your current or former supervisor and a colleague or client who can speak at length about your value to your company or organization is a much better choice than someone who may have an impressive title, but little insight into you as a person or future Chicago GSB student.
This myth is one of my favorites. Admissions officers frequently make the same point as GSB does and yet there will always be some fools who get the "power recommendation" and then get dinged. The more common form of this would be selecting a senior level executive over someone who knows you well. The reality is that you should get recs from people who actually have something to say about you.
Anyway, I have to get back to admissions consulting with my clients. I hope you have a great 2008!

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to.

-Adam Markus
アダム マーカス
MBA留学 ビジネススクール カウンセリング コンサルティング
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